The value of an offensive guard may never be higher than it is now. With athletic defensive ends sliding inside to the three technique and the reliance on zone blocking schemes that stress mobility, teams must have guards that can anchor and move on their feet.
Their best bet in finding one may be in the 2013 draft, where there are multiple quality players at the position. One of them is North Carolina’s Jonathan Cooper, who is perhaps the best athlete of his peers.
A big reason why he’s so light on his feet, despite weighing over 300 pounds, is his flexibility. He does a good job of bending his knees when on the move, making it easier for him to drop his hips and cut block defensive linemen on the back-side of a play as well as redirecting and blocking defenders at the second level.
An instance of his ability to redirect came against Maryland this past season. On a read-option concept, Cooper was slated to block down to his right and up. He had no one covering him at the line of scrimmage, thus allowing him to work to the five-yard area where linebackers roam.
His target was junior linebacker L.A. Goree, who simultaneously was coming down to the line of scrimmage.
While Goree was coming down, he slid to his right, which made it harder on Cooper to execute the block. Instead of simply going straight ahead to block him, Cooper was forced to bend at his knees and lower his pad level in order to change directions.
After effortlessly redirecting, he got his hands on Goree and sealed him outside, helping create an alley for stud running back Giovani Bernard to run through.
Not many guards have the ability to do what Cooper did on this play because it’s difficult for them to break down in space. It’s why not all players at the position are fit for every scheme, such as the zone blocking scheme that requires more mobility out of the blocker than, for instance, a man blocking scheme.
Another aspect of Cooper’s game that’s very impressive is his ability to slide his feet laterally at the line of scrimmage and pick up multiple defenders when needed.
In the same game against Maryland, he was the uncovered guard against a three man front. His responsibility would be to slide to his right with the rest of the offensive lineman because it was a full-slide call in that direction. However, when doing that, he’d have to keep his eyes peeled for any looping or stunting defenders.
When Cooper slid right, he picked up the nose tackle, No. 97. The nose tackle charged into the A-gap as part of a stunt, which would see his teammate and defensive tackle, No. 72, eventually come across the face of Cooper to penetrate into the backfield.
The defensive tackle never made it into the backfield. Despite coming across the formation, he was immediately picked up by Cooper. The Tar Heels guard disengaged from the nose tackle when he saw the defensive tackle coming across and blocked him as well.
Cooper’s feet are the biggest reason why he’s likely go to high in this April’s draft. There simply aren’t many athletes like him at the position. However, he’s not without flaws in his game either.
The North Carolina athlete isn’t a fit for every blocking scheme because he struggles to anchor at times. He hasn’t built up enough strength and bulk to do a consistently good job of anchoring against defensive linemen, which could be problematic at the next level. Even if he goes to a zone blocking scheme, he would be forced to hold his own against strong linemen because if they line up directly over him, he’s responsible for them much like a man blocking scheme.
If Cooper is able to put on muscle mass when he joins an NFL weight room, he has a chance to be one of the best guards in the league. A combination of athleticism and strength is very difficult to deal with for any defender, especially a defensive tackle that’s unlikely to be equally talented.
All use of videos to take snapshots is done by DraftBreakdown.com.